A risk map of the world

With the exception of Japan, poor and developing countries are most vulnerable to natural disasters

Because it is subject to strong earthquakes and floods caused by tsunamis, Japan is the only developed country that has a high risk of being affected by cataclysmic events, according to the 2016 World Risk Report, a publication prepared by the United Nations University, German agency Alliance Development Works and the University of Stuttgart. The Asian nation is ranked 17th on the World Risk Index, which classifies 171 countries according to their potential for experiencing five types of extreme events: droughts, floods, cyclones or storms, earthquakes and sea level rise.

The index lists the areas of the world in descending order of vulnerability to disasters and separates them into five categories. Each category comprises 20% of the total number of countries, which are classified by risk level: very high, high, medium, low or very low. The final indicator is calculated by analyzing 28 geoclimatic and socioeconomic parameters, such as the number of people exposed to disasters, the population’s income and education level, capacity for mitigating the impact of extreme events and ability to adapt to changes.

Vanuatu, a small archipelago in the South Pacific 1,700 kilometers east of Australia with a population of 250,000, is the world’s most at-risk country, ranked at number one on the index. The country is subject to earthquakes and cyclones, and could be covered under water if the sea level rises. This does not take into account vulcanism, which is not factored into calculation of the index. Ranked second is Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago, followed by the Philippines. Haiti, where Hurricane Matthew killed 1,300 people and left 35,000 homeless in October 2016, ranks 21st on the list. Brazil comes in at 123rd place and is classified as low-risk, along with the United States, Italy, Argentina and the United Kingdom. “No index based on natural disasters is perfect,” says Lucí Hidalgo Nunes of Unicamp. “The classifications change according to the variables used and the weight given to each. But Brazil is definitely not one of the worst-case countries.”